Projection is a defense mechanism commonly used by abusers, including people with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder and addicts. Basically, they say, “It’s not me, it’s you.”
When we project, we’re defending ourselves against unconscious impulses or traits, either positive or negative, that we’ve denied in ourselves. Instead, we attribute them to others. Our thoughts or feelings about someone or something are too uncomfortable to acknowledge. In our mind, we believe that the thought or emotion originates from that other person or thing.
We might imagine, “She hates me;” when we actually hate her. We might think someone else is angry or judgmental, yet are unaware that we are. Similar to projection is externalization, when we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes us feel like a victim. Addicts often blame their drinking or drug use on their spouse or boss.
Our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity.
Projection is considered a primitive defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use. When used by adults, it reveals less emotional maturity and indicates impaired emotional development.